High Adventure at Historic Banning Mills

In December, 2011, a representative from Guinness World Records made his way to Snake Creek Gorge in west Georgia to verify a new world record. The record: world's tallest freestanding climbing wall; the place, Historic Banning Mills, a country retreat and conservation center located on Snake Creek, just outside the small town of Whitesburg. After a new record was declared, Historic Banning Mills earned another notch in its belt as a notable adventure sports travel destination.

Banning Mills already had what it claims is the longest and fastest canopy zip line tour in North America, with a 7.5-mile course and zips where riders reach speeds approaching 70 mph on half-mile long lines. But the canopy tour is more than just a zip line course -- it also contains numerous sky bridges, including one that crosses the gorge at a height of 180 feet above the creek. It's definitely an Indiana Jones moment on the tour when you're crossing a swinging foot bridge, seeing the rapids far below as you step delicately on the two-by-fours at your feet (yes, you are harnessed in to a safety line, so falling is impossible, but it's still an exhilarating and nerve racking experience).

If that sounds too extreme, there are five different canopy tours visitors can try, including a new course designed specifically for novices and younger children, making it a good option for the whole family (minimum age 8, minimum weight 50 pounds).

Other adventure options at Banning Mills include the Power Fall, a controlled free fall from a height of 100 feet. That's like jumping off a ten-story building. You're harnessed in to an elaborate rope and pulley system that automatically slows you down at 15 feet above the ground, but the 85-foot fall before that is a true free fall. Stepping off the platform, with nothing below but hard earth, is a gut wrenching test of faith. Grown men have been known to scream like little girls, only to touch the ground more softly than a parachute or hang glider landing.

Kayaking and horseback riding adventures are also offered by Banning Mills, as well as team building ropes courses popular with corporate and church groups. You can also hike easy-to-moderate trails along the gorge and explore the ruins of historic 19th century textile and paper mills, learn about the ancient art of falconry and take in a bird of prey show on select dates. Stay overnight in lodge rooms, cabins or at the RV park and campground on the other side of the gorge. Lodge guests are treated to a hearty country breakfast in the main building each morning. Special arrangements can be made for other meals, from a romantic in-room gourmet dinner to picnic lunches for your daily adventures.

Photos by Blake Guthrie